In the face of terror
December 7, 2017
Loud cheering faded into panicked screams of terror as a gunman opened fire on concert goers at the Route 91 Harvest music festival in Las Vegas, leaving 58 dead and 515 injured. Only a month later, another gunman shot and killed 26 churchgoers in a small rural Texas town before fleeing. While some have not yet recovered from the emotional impact of the Las Vegas shooting, another act of terror occurring soon after shook the US, causing fear to spread through the country. The shootings at Las Vegas and Texas are only a few of the increasingly prevalent terrorist attacks occurring in the U.S.
As a result of such acts of terror, many have begun to question the ability of the U.S. government to truly ensure their citizens’ security. On the other hand, others, especially post-millennials, seem to have expressed indifference due to the relative prevalence of these deadly events. As social media platforms play a large part into sharing ideas that reach a large number of people, many utilize social media to express sympathy and spread the word regarding such events, while some engage in politically charged discussions following an act of terror.
Perpetual coverage of terror attacks and related organizations such as ISIS has led to the sensationalization of the topic; biased news outlets only add to the panic of people who look toward these sources for information. This spread of misinformation can result in the stereotyping of certain demographics as terrorists, while others are humanized. Increased reporting on ISIS’s actions not only spreads fear throughout the public, but can also encourage violence on behalf of potential perpetrators.
Regardless of how people respond, an act of terror will inevitably leave a large impact on the nation. The aftermath of such acts extend for months, often resulting in microaggressions due to a negative perspective of certain groups. Despite the U.S.’s reputation of guaranteeing freedom and safety for all citizens, unfortunately, such effects are still common, especially after an act of terror.
This issue, the Epic delves deeper into the psychological impacts and reasoning behind the fear, and more recently indifference, surrounding acts of terror, and how the media has played a role in public attitudes toward these issues.
Attacks of terror in America since 9/11
Indifference to fear
The aftershocks from an act of terrorism can powerfully impact those not involved in the act itself, as fear rapidly spreads throughout the nation, causing people to turn against each other and doubt their security. A decade ago, terrorism would certainly instill unrest throughout the nation, leading citizens to take action and demand change; however as time passes, younger generations have become notably unresponsive to the increased prevalence of terrorism.
“Fear is the primary psychological weapon underlying acts of terrorism,” said Daniel Antonius, director of forensic psychiatry at the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, in an interview with CNN. “It is this fear, or the anticipation of future acts of terror, that can have serious effects on our behavior and minds.”
Terrorists strive to be constantly present in people’s consciousness, in the form of constant stress and uncertainty, according to terrorism expert John Horgan. This omnipresent sense of danger causes a loss of the ability to reason, alterations in temperament and motivation, a constant state of alertness and in extreme cases, serious psychological distress.
“Terrorism works because it is so efficient,” said Dr. Marilee Ruebsamen, a trauma psychologist. “Horrific acts on a small random scale have a huge effect because they carry a message that anyone could be next — terrorists’ power lies in their proven brutality and their unpredictability.”
Many individuals, particularly those born after 1995, however, are too young to understand or remember the panic and fear resulting from events such as the Columbine High School shooting and the 9/11 attacks. These individuals, more commonly referred to as Generation Z or post-millennials, have never known a world without weekly shootings and extremist attacks. Not only have these attacks become more frequent, they have become increasingly deadly; all but one of the nation’s five deadliest shootings have occurred in the past five years. This younger generation’s high tolerance for such acts is often translated to indifference.
“With 9/11, it was like ‘Oh my god, this is something so terrible that happened,’ but it was unprecedented,” said senior Malaika Khan. “It’s more common now, which is terrible to say, but it makes us more numb to it, especially because it doesn’t happen near us.”
Being exposed to frequent acts of terror starting at a young age results in desensitization, or these events being perceived as comparable to everyday occurrences. As a result, the thought of future acts of terror, which would ordinarily cause anxiety in other generations, does not have as strong of an effect on Generation Z.
From a biological perspective, humans are hardwired to be adverse to change and danger; natural instinct encourage individuals to remain removed from potentially dangerous situations. As a result, the human brain will accept the most convenient facts as truth, as acknowledging that terrorism exists instills insecurity and panic, feelings the human mind does not want to face. By convincing themselves that they are safe, the individuals who have yet to be affected are lulled into a sense of security, a subconscious inductive fallacy in which people believe that since they have not been directly affected by terrorism, it is unlikely they ever will. In this way, fear prevents people from taking action against terrorism.
“Sometimes such desensitization can happen intentionally (though maybe subconsciously), if we can convince ourselves (or others) that something is not in fact as scary or important as it really is,” said Dr. Sara Hyatt, a clinical psychologist. “Again, this is usually another coping and defense mechanism, because if we allowed ourselves to really feel how frightening it really is, it would be too overwhelming. If we can downplay something, criticize it, belittle it, joke about it… we can lighten it to the point that it loses its power and its ability to create fear in us. At least for the time being. We do this individually, as well as culturally as groups.”
Sensationalization of terrorism by the media has a similar effect, causing people to lose trust in the media’s job to accurately report terrorism for what it is, and adversely leading to increasing disregard for terrorism as a threat. On the other hand, the government often use media as a means of reassuring the public that actions are being taken to prevent future acts of terror. The belief that there is already a solution to the problem lulls people into a sense of security. As they believe that the government is already taking action, individuals cease pushing for for reform, thus hindering further progress.
“I guess once it stops being so prominent in news, that’s when I start feeling a little more safe,” said sophomore Natalie Semersky. “I think the other thing is that attacks happen so often now that you don’t really have the time before something like that happens again, so when people stop talking about it, the feeling of safety returns.”
Publically, people grieve for and honor the deceased on social media; however, the abundance of such posts acts against anti-terrorist action. Although believed to be a kind gesture, these actions do little to prevent those who intend harm from taking action, being more of a comfort to those who create posts on social media than those actually involved in the incident.
“I’m not one to believe in all those Pray for this, Pray for that kind of thing but I guess the one thing that it does help is spreading around how you should not have to live in fear,” said senior Surya Auroprem. “But at the same time, the posts on social media tend to spread the fear of terrorist attacks.”
Additionally, people often use terrorist attacks to justify their political or religious beliefs. While discourse about necessary action is undeniably important, the politicization of these acts of terror makes individuals detached from the reality of the situation and leaves them with only a surface-level understanding of the event. Discussions, especially in heated social media arguments, primarily revolve around proving people on the opposite side of the political spectrum wrong.
“In the direct aftermath, when all of us are reeling, however momentarily, humans are at their most emotional,” said Dr. Sally Broder, President-Elect of the Santa Clara County Psychological Association. “This emotion can be the catalyst for a person to want to take positive action and do something (run for office, call their representative), or conversely we can see the very worst come out in people at these times. On social media, sometimes people just snap and say things they would never otherwise say, throwing caution to the wind. When a person takes a position in the aftermath of a terrorist attack (all Muslims must leave the country, etc) they open themselves up to attack from a person with an opposing view, and in a heightened emotional state, damage can be done.”
A 2016 study conducted at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln found that the combination of uncertainty and threat makes people, especially conservatives, less willing to compromise. To reduce negative emotions in the direct aftermath of an attack, many psychologists recommend that people wait for the emotional response to die down a bit before making major decisions about changes to make.
“A process of gathering and weighing the facts, the perspectives of others, the use of empathy, not being consumed by one’s own need entirely, being open to varied viewpoints, truly attempting to listen to others before feeling the need to convince them of your opinion can be very powerful and a responsibility we all need to take seriously,” said Dr. Diane Bridgeman.
While the weaponization of fear is primarily employed by terrorists to instill anxiety over a large population, the emotional impact of such acts of terror is fading with each event among post-millenials due to the prevalence of terrorism. Many of these post-millenials, however, are often the ones expressing their condolences as well as engaging in politically charged debates via social media. Ultimately, panic and unrest, as well as detached sympathy and heated discussions, are all common responses to an act of terror. Due to the divisive nature of these events, it is all the more important that citizens react rationally.
The moment after people’s lives are lost in an act of terror, the media goes into a frenzy. Reporters fly out to the scene, stories float around on the internet and the comments section of any post burst with the opinions of people near and far, conservative and liberal. But something is inherently wrong with the message that many outlets are pushing: the word tolerance.
But what is wrong with that word which has littered mainstream culture? Rooted in structural oppression, the word contends that certain individuals only need to be “tolerated,” not appreciated. While a loud uncle at Thanksgiving dinner or even an obnoxious child running inside the metro can be “tolerated,” we should not just be “tolerating” the differences among us. Instead, there should be a celebration of what makes one unique. Asking us to only “tolerate” minorities and their voices within a community only serve to silence voices, allowing the majority to tune out of discussions because of the belief that it is just enough to “tolerate” others, not hear them out.
Tolerance is, to some extent, to be blamed for all the evils and the divisions that are rearing their ugly heads within the nation. Terrorists are successful in dividing this country because even from the most progressive among us, we ask for only “tolerance” of other people and ideas when in fact we should be asking for the celebration of other cultures and our divisions. Minorities are stripped of their cultural pride when they are told that the majority simply “puts up” with them, not valuing their experiences as a person of color and disregarding the struggles they face because of their race. “Tolerance” will never allow us as a society to evolve into the melting pot we hope to be someday. When we are asked to tolerate others, we are not giving the curiosity in us a chance to explore another person’s cultural identity and how it has shaped them as a person. There is no other country on this planet that can boast of the diversity of minds and thoughts than this great country we call home can. The very notion of mere tolerance only serves to amplify the differences among us. If instead, we learn to embrace our differences and absorb the goodness in the various segments of our society, be it religious or racial, the synergy that can be achieved would bring a widespread feeling of unity.
These positive sentiments, however, are the notion of just “tolerating” minority voices enforces complacency within activism. The idea of tolerance indicates that the majority has carried out such a gracious and charitable act by simply acknowledging the existence of someone of a different race, gender, or sexual orientation. This negatively shifts the discussion from asking “how do we include minorities within mainstream discourse?” to “should minorities be tolerated in our discourse?” We will not see a need to raise our voices when we see discrimination and harassment based on someone’s personal identity, as we may be content that we have already done more than needed just by tolerating them.
The U.S. is by far one of the most progressive countries in the world, because of certain inalienable rights, such as the freedom of speech and the press. But these freedoms come with a type of responsibility, one to question the meaning of our rhetoric and the way we address the dichotomy of cultures. While the intent of our words is often in good spirit, words like tolerance only serve to undermine the level of respect that cultures deserve, and limit our potential to truly celebrate each other’s differences.
Lynbrook reflects on Terror
Terror in Europe, or Is It Just a Misunderstanding?
Watching the news nowadays can seem repetitive. Parisian mass shootings two times in the same year. Truck runs over people in Berlin just a few months after Nice. Reviews of the numerous attacks make us realize how much bloodshed there has been at the hands of terrorism within a couple years. They have affected the smallest villages and the federal government; as a result, the anti-immigration, Eurosceptic far-right have seen huge surges in recent elections.
The tension of cultural integration of immigrants has existed for decades in Europe, brought on by decolonization after the Second World War and the breakup of the Warsaw Pact. Yet the misrepresentation of populations by radicalists has provoked a negative, impulsive reaction from citizens. In addition to former colonials and migrant workers from Eastern Europe, many Westerners have also assumed a negative view of the influx of refugees from the Middle East and West Africa, who are sometimes seen as uncomprehending of Western traditions and there to take national resources. These feelings are often driven by fear and uncertainty, as people are suspicious of foreign-looking strangers.
From my personal experience, however, I have also witnessed great leaps taken by caring volunteers, helping refugees get accustomed to life in a new country. My wish is that Americans can see that our problem is bigger than ourselves, collaborating with other countries to solve it. When I was there, the US government cautioned us against certain places, but if we show our fear, it will only consume us.
Media’s stranglehold on perception
According to a recent survey, “ISIS” was one of the top ten words Lynbrook students associated with acts of terror. The second most frequently Googled term in recent years, ISIS has received the exponential media coverage necessary to spread their message of fear and acquire new recruits over the past decade.
While most members of ISIS are Muslim, relatively few members of Muslims in the US have any ties to the terrorist organization. President Trump’s team has incorrectly labeled many terrorist attacks, specifically ones with Muslim perpetrators, as underreported; Muslim perpetrators represent 44 percent of media coverage on terrorist attacks, but only 12 percent of actual terrorist attacks. A study conducted in 2017 by the Pew Research Center also found that 35 percent of U.S. adults believe there to be significant amounts of extremism among U.S. Muslims, and 41 percent believe that Islam encourages violence over any other faith.
Reporting has ingrained a misleading association between Muslims or Islamic groups such as ISIS and fear or terror within the U.S. population. The repeated coverage of terror and associated organizations has also created an aura of media sensationalism, encouraging violence among potential perpetrators. Because the public’s main source of information following an attack is the media, accurate reporting is essential to correctly inform the public. Unfortunately, misinformation spreads rapidly, and the effects of biased news can have lasting effects on the public.
The world has not yet settled on a standard definition of “terrorism,” but the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations defines it as “the unlawful use of force and violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives.” In order to correctly qualify an attack as an act of terror, it is necessary to investigate whether or not there is a political or ideological agenda behind the task.
Recent events have also led to the discussion of double standards in the portrayal of terrorist or other attacks. Oftentimes, an offender of color will be labeled as a terrorist, while a caucasian individual who commits similar acts is often humanized. As CBS political analyst Jamelle Bouie tweeted early this year in October, “Essentially, by the definition currently in common currency, a white person cannot be a terrorist.”
In the case of the murder of British Parliament member Jo Cox in June of 2016, perpetrator Thomas Mair, who was white, was deemed neither a “terrorist” nor a “possible terrorist” even though it was proven that he was politically motivated to commit the crime. On the other hand, Indian Muslim Nisar ud-Din Ahmed was jailed for 23 years after being falsely accused of plotting terrorist acts.
False perceptions of people of color have led to a sense of unease even locally. For example, freshman Anoushka Naik was inaccurately labeled as dangerous at a local Starbucks when she was 12 years old.
“A woman kept looking at me weirdly, and I later heard her telling her daughter to stay away from people like me, saying they’re bad, they’ll hurt you,” said Naik. “I felt disappointed because she was telling her young daughter that people like me, people of color, are going to hurt her. I wanted to speak out at that moment and say I wouldn’t hurt anyone. But in that moment, I felt like it would have just added to that girl’s fear of me and I didn’t want that.”
ISIS has also established itself as the primary organization associated with terror through the media, strategically claims responsibility for attacks which affect a large group of people. As a result, an increased coverage of ISIS and its involvement allows ISIS and other organizations to spread their word to the public, encouraging more individuals to join their efforts. According to a study conducted by Economics and Finance professor Michael Jetter from EAFIT University in Colombia, there exists a clear association between the amount of coverage of a terrorist incident and the number of subsequent attacks over the next few weeks.
“Whether it is the Taliban, al-Qaida, Boko Haram or, recently, ISIS, terrorism is everywhere on TV stations, newspapers and the radio,” Jetter said. “Terrorists need media coverage to spread their message, create fear and recruit followers. However, until now we did not know whether media attention actively encourages terrorist attacks.”
The media is a critical aspect in making the government accountable for its actions and keeping the public well-informed. News journalists have the ability to selectively filter out what the public hears; consequently, they are the public’s instrument to learn what is going on. The lack of accuracy on issues has been attributed to many things, most notably the lack of regulation on what can be published online and the ease which information can be distributed online.
“The book ‘Brave New World’ explains a situation in which everything is flipped,” said Economics and Government teacher David Pugh. “Facts become fiction, fiction becomes facts, which is kind of what’s happening today… We don’t know what to believe.”
Many Americans doubt the dependability of news sources, and in a poll done by Quinnipiac University in January, more than half of the sample group showed doubt in the system. Likewise, over 55 percent of Lynbrook students did not trust the media to report objectively. The most problematic aspect of the issue is the need to keep opinion and analysis separate.
“People need to look at media just to give themselves facts,” said senior Sultaan Ahmed. “There shouldn’t be a liberal or conservative media, they’re just supposed to give us information.”
Times of Turbulence
During my travels in Europe, I found myself greeted by an unfamiliar sight. In London and Paris, armed Military Personnel lined the streets. As citizens milled about their daily lives, a tangible tension seemed to hang in the air.
These troops are part of Opération Sentinelle (And in Britain, the equivalent Operation Temperer) – domestic deployment of the military to guard against potential terror threat. These reactionary countermeasures follow a rise in casualties in the EU from 4 individuals in 2014 to 150 in 2015. Domestic militarization is now a very real phenomenon in the European Union.
Back home in the United States, continentally divided from Europe, the vast majority (~85%) of terrorist attacks stem from Citizens or Legal Residents. A large portion includes American-Born converts. The current administration’s measure of constricting border security negates the fact that violence stems from ideas, not countries.
It is becoming increasingly clear to even the most removed of laymen that Western society finds itself in a state of turbulence. Placed in a dichotomy with the chaos and violence that ripples our social fabric is the reactionary force rising in response – the manifestation of which patrols the streets of Europe right now. As tensions build and newer measures arise to guarantee the safety of our citizens, it’s rapidly becoming our duty to monitor these measures and the impact it has on our lives as a whole. As our safety must be secured, so must our freedoms.
Now – more than ever – is the time to be vigilant.